Greek philosopher Plato makes a distinction between real objects and those concepts that exist in the minds of the people. He makes these explanations in his dialogues that take the perspective of education and these dialogues are found in his famous work called the republic. In the republic, this Greek philosopher uses three analogies to explain the process of education especially the difference between reality and perceptions. These analogies are the analogy of the cave, the analogy of the divided line and the analogy of the sun. What does each of these analogies entail? The analogy of the cave simply explains what Plato saw as the meaning of education while the analogy of the divided line creates more complicated explanations that the analogy of the cave. The third analogy which is the analogy of the sun helps students of philosophy to make distinctions that enable them to understand his Plato’s teachings better.
This paper will first look at the allegory of the caves. In this allegory, this Greek philosopher likens ignorance to a cave and education as a process of leaving that cave which exposes people to sunlight which stands for enlightenment. At the back of the cave are the masses, the people of the city as Plato put it and in this cave, they are usually tied down in a way that does not allow them to move backwards or forward (Cross, 1991). All these people see is the back wall of the cave and behind them at the back wall is fire that has figures that go forward and backwards before it and this forms some shadows on that wall. The implication is that the reality that this people facing this wall in the cave is made up of these shadows. This means that these people who are confined in this cave know nothing else and according to them, there is nothing else beyond those shadows. It is when one of the people in the cave breaks lose that his or her head will turn around and they will see the fire and these figures going back and forth and realize that whatever they have been thinking is the full realty may not be in real sense the truth. This will lead them out of the cave which will expose them to sunlight, a symbol of enlightenment and the source of the truth. The sun will give them the light and allow them to see what they have not been seeing in the first place. What happens is that before that person in the cave sees the fire and the sun, they believe that light is lack of darkness instead of the other way round where lack of light brings darkness. When one leaves the cave, they see real objects illuminated in the sunlight and these are now the forms. When one moves out of the world of the shadows that they used to live in when they were in the cave, the start understanding things as they really are and this brings a complete understanding of the absolute truth. This makes the person to yearn staying in the sun for the rest of their lives and also understands that they have an obligation to return to the back of the cave to ensure that those people who are stuck in the world of the shadow see what is outside the cave. However, his help may not be appreciated by those still in the caves because they think there is nothing beyond the shadows they are used to. If they try to tell these people who are still stuck in the shadows about what he or she has seen outside the cave, these people will think that he or she has run mad and these people can kill this person as it happened to Socrates. The people might have him incarcerated as it happened to Galileo. For this person to succeed in bringing these people out of the cave, he must be in a position where he must decide what the people ought to know, and this position is that of the ruler.
The allegory of the cave can also be explained from another dimension. It is about human beings being trapped in a deep cave which limits what they can see and what they can hear in that cave. This cave is symbolic of the world that most people think is real where they can only make reference to the shadows that is just in front of their eyes instead of seeing the real things that cast this shadow in front of them. According to Plato, the realm that is visible should be likened to a prison like system and the light of the fire in the interior should be likened to the power of the sun. An interpretation of the upward journey and studying the things that are as above as this journey of the soul towards a realm that is intelligible, it is possible to grasp what may people fail to grasp (Ferrari, 2007). The point that the philosopher is trying to make is that those prisoners who are in the cave never see reality, what they see is a shadow that represents reality. Upon their release from the cave, the prisoner is healed of their ignorance and this exposes them to reality but those prisoners still in the cave are confined to the world and see it from their ignorant perspective and believe in the little they can see. This means that this prisoner can only escape the limitations in the cave when he or she undertakes an unfamiliar journey that will enable them to occupy a higher realm that will create true reality that will help them to grasp the forms. In the theory of the external forms,
The allegory of the divided line attempts to explain the same process of enlightenment though using a very complicated method. In this allegory , Plato uses a single line and this line is cut into four parts with five endpoints. These lines are AB, BC, CD and DE with AB being the shortest of the four lines. This line symbolizes the masses that are sited at the back of the cave. These are the masses who believe there is nothing beyond the shadows the se in the cave. When a person is in the line AB. Their only source of knowledge is images, reflections and shadows and all of the aforementioned sources of knowledge are not real because they are mere distortions of real objects meaning that they cannot tell anyone about the truth . the only create room for conjectures and wrong guesswork. The next line segment is BC which is longer than the former and this represents a person who is in the cave but has since started gazing at the fire and comes to understand that the shadows are created by figures going backwards and forwards before this fire. This brings more knowledge to this person because the source of their knowledge at this point are real objects. The next line is the line CD which is even longer than BC and this line symbolizes mathematical understanding where the philosopher is now moving out of the cave for the first time and manages to see sunlight. This opens the person to the world, gets enlightened and starts seeing real forms (Blackburn, 2007). The last segment of this line is the DE which is even longer than CD and this line presents understanding which is beyond the mathematical understanding presented in the previous line. This line presents the philosophical understanding which is higher than the mathematical understanding that the person gets immediately they move out of the cave. At this stage, the already enlightened person gains further understanding of concept forms. These concept forms include justice, fairness, goodness and the truth and these are the things a true ruler should be able to grasp. These four sections of the divided line fall into two category where the first group is governed by the sun while the second one is governed by the good.
The first one is said to be governed by the sun because it is concerned with those physical objects that can only be viewed or perceived while illuminated by the light of the sun. the theory of the divided line tries to explain what the nature of the guardians of the state or the rulers should be like. According to this philosopher, there some attributes that a good and a just ruler should have. A good and a just ruler according to Plato should the truthful, should exercise gentility, should have a spirit of moderation and have the ability to grasp the forms. According to Plato, any one with the aforementioned abilities is a real philosopher meaning that philosophers are the only people who are able to rule over the people. This is because they are the only people who are able to grasp the pure forms through the mind and comprehend the relevance and the aesthetics of all the forms and everything that is good. Most of the people do not have this ability because most people turn their eyes to the things whose colors are not in the light of the day and instead turn their eyes to those things whose colors are in the gloom of the night, dimming their eyes and blinding their perspectives. This blurs their visions but when one turns their eyes to the things that are illuminated by the sun, they are able to see clearly and their vision is reflected in the same eyes. This takes this paper to the third analogy postulated by Plato and this is the analogy of the sun.
The analogy of the sun brought forward by Plato centers on the sense of sight which Plato himself believed was the most important sense because it is a very noble entity. This is the sense that brings understanding of the physical objects. In this analogy, Plato equates sight to reason where he claims that reason is noble because it needs a person to understand what has been understood so that the good can make the understanding of the everlasting forms to happen (Annas, 1981). That is why the two remaining parts of the divided line are divided by the good. From this analysis of the three analogies; the analogy of the cave, the analogy of the divided line and the analogy of the sun, it can be concluded that Plato believed there is a difference between want people perceive using their senses and what they understand from the depth of their minds. This has an implication of the sense of being because it is only those people who can understand the eternal forms that can understand the concepts of righteousness and justice and it is this people who can transform the world. The bottom line is that what people see in the physical world is not real it is not eternal. According to Plato, the eternal forms are unchanging, very pure, full of perfection and absolutely aesthetics.
List of references
Annas, J. (1981). An Introduction to Plato’s Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Blackburn, S. (2007). Plato’s Republic: A Biography. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Cross, R. (1964). Plato’s Republic: A Philosophical Commentary. London: Macmillan.
Ferrari, G. (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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